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Who Let The Dogs Out At CBS Sports?

Monday, November 24, 2008 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:08 AM, under , , ,

Athens, GA (Nov 24, 2008) - Life in the corporate world. Rigid lines of authority. Streamlined communications policies and procedures. Keeping a low profile when you don't have a dog in he hunt. Somehow, that was not the case this weekend as CBS Sports talent Jim Nantz and Tim Brando cut loose and started to bite at ESPN, their acquisition of the Bowl Championship Series, and the sports television business itself.

Nantz, in an interview with USA Today's "Game On" blog, had these words to ponder (via a link from Fang's Bites):

"The over-the-air networks have got to hope that at some point ESPN runs out of program hours. Leave us a little something. Leave us a few windows. You know, it's hard to compete with them when they can double dip."...

"The thing I don't understand if why (if ESPN and ABC are both owned by Disney), aren't you putting the games on ABC instead of ESPN?...On top of that, I read they're going to take the Rose Bowl and put it over on ESPN. Why? Why are you doing that? I don't understand. But that's their business. I don't want to tell anybody how to run their business. It's an interesting dynamic where the same owner (Disney) is building up one (ESPN) and poaching off the other (ABC)."...

Has Major League Baseball benefited by giving up some of the early rounds of the playoffs (to Turner Sports' TBS). I'm not talking quality here. I'm talking about perception. Has their stature risen from this? Maybe they haven't taken a hit. I don't know. It would be an interesting study."

Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/CBS. Used with permission.

So while Nantz, waxed thoughtfully (including some between the line pointed digs) about the changing landscape in television sports, Tim Brando took on the industry pit bull role. In all of the years I have worked with Tim, I have never known him as a person who minces his words. But I do not think that I, or many other people (with the possible exception of the production crew who had a reheasal before going on-air) would have expected this on air criticism on the sports television industry:

A few thoughts on the BCS. Whether or not we agree on the legitimacy of college football's national championship process, no longer can we simply point the finger at the University Presidents and the six Conference Commissioners who broker deals as the only culprits in this unique cartel known as the Bowl Championship Series. Earlier this week a new four-year contract worth over half a billion dollars was consummated moving the property from Fox to ESPN.

One has to wonder despite a 40% increase in rights fees, if during the negotiation, any pressure was brought upon the BCS to improve its product with, at worst, a “plus-one” model. This was the moment that all college football fans looked to as a chance for improvements to be made to enhance the sport for the greater good. Despite the criticisms of the BCS, we were all given the liberty to make, as well as the solutions we were encouraged to propose, it seems that, in the end, the executives in our business are now just as responsible as the University Presidents and the Conference Commissioners for where we are, and where we'll stay in college football's postseason.

All of us in TV should look in the mirror and say we found an additional obstacle, and it is us.

Photo Copyright 2008 by Eye on Sports Media/The Cayuga Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

It is not as if Brando's commentary was something the CBS Sports was concerned about. After all, their media relations staff sent the transcript out in a press release. So why are the attack dogs coming out over at Black Rock? Is CBS Sports getting defensive as they worry that they might lose their crown jewel known as The Masters (which is a year-to-year contract)? Are they worried that they might lose the NCAA basketball Championship when it runs out in 4 years or so? Was there a hidden message in the fact that there was a banner ad, above the fold, for "24" on this weekend?

Notwithstanding, Brando was off the mark in criticizing the television industry. Just because they bring the dollars to the table does not mean they should dictate how things are done. Oh, wait a minute, that is how things have been done in the past. I remember one basketball producer being irate that a major school's sports information director was not, and never was, very cooperative. The producer essentially said "Doesn't he know who is footing his bills?". But the BCS is different and they held the cards in this negotiation. It is not like hockey, a sport that has to pay the networks to be on TV. As broken as it is, the BCS and the power conferences will not be dictated to by networks wanting the broadcast rights. They just want the money, and they want it from the highest bidder.

Nantz's and Brando's comments are not a case of sour grapes because CBS lost the contract. In fact, the network was not even part of the final bidding process (it is not known if they had expressed any interest earlier in the process). But they did recently drop a chunk of change to renew/extend their rights to the Southeastern Conference games for 15 years. They were able to successfully bid for that extension. But they do not have the built in advantage of ESPN's double revenue stream, and that is life at this moment in time. But it is an unfair monopoly that people should be calling on Congress to look at. And that call cannot come from the broadcasters alone, it has to come from the general public. A public that might not even care as long as they can see their games someplace.

Related Link(s)

CBS' Nantz: Leave something for the rest of us (USA Today GameOn Blog)

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